NORTH ANDOVER — Heading into Sunday's Division 3 Eastern Mass Championship Meet, in order for the Tewksbury Memorial High School boys' outdoor track-and-field team to have a chance at first place or in the top three, so many things had to go right, while the team needed to have several athletes not only come through but overachieve if you will.
All of that happened.
Behind stellar performances across the board, the Redmen chalked up 54 points and were in the running for the first place title up until the second to last event. That’s when Stoughton clinched it and went on to finish with 68 points. Pembroke (52), Milton (51) and Burlington (49) were also neck-and-neck the entire way as the five teams really battled throughout the entire meet under hot temperatures.
"We love second place here in Tewksbury. We got a lot of them. No one likes second place more than us," said head coach Peter Molloy with a huge laugh. "Kidding aside, we were awesome today."
Tewksbury was indeed awesome on the day thanks in part to the lone first place from Lucas Frost and then behind tremendous and really unexpected performances from juniors Zach LaLonde and Thomas Barinelli.
LaLonde was seeded ninth in the 400-meter hurdles and from the unseeded heat, he ran the best race of his career thus far finishing second overall with a blazing time of 57.16 seconds.
In addition he was also fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at 14.85 and was part of the sixth place 4x400 relay team.
"Zach really stepped up for us in the 400-meter hurdles and got huge points for us," said Molloy. "It hurt him a little bit in the 110-meter hurdles and I told him all season long that I wasn't going to do that to him — have one event hurt him with the hurdles — so I wish it didn't, but it did. But I'll tell you that I don't know if he would have walked away with 13 points. We needed every single point he scored, every single one of them. And he didn't run poorly in the 110-hurdles, he only ran a tenth of a second slower (than his seed time)."
Besides a stutter step before hitting a hurdle about 250-meters into the race, LaLonde ran a terrific race, including gaining a lot of ground from the 100 to 250-meter mark.
"I came into this meet with a time of 59.6 and I was going for a 56.5 which is our school record, but I'm happy with a 57.16," said LaLonde, a three-sport athlete, who also excels in soccer and indoor track. "It's a two-second personal record. I had a stutter step over there (before the final turn) but besides that, I'm happy with (the performance)."
During the indoor season, Molloy stressed a few times that LaLonde was stuck in a place where he was good but knew that there were several levels higher than he could get to. He hit certainly got out of neutral on this day.
"I'm getting there, just not quite there yet," said LaLonde. "There's definitely been progress made from the indoor to this outdoor season. I think it's just execution. Sometimes I'll get on the line and I won't do everything that I have been taught properly. I just get some much into the race and I don’t think about what I’m supposed to be doing.
“Once I get on the line and I do think about what I'm supposed to be doing, it helps me a lot more do everything properly.”
LaLonde said that he and Coach Peter Molloy worked on several things leading up to the meet.
"Two days ago, Coach Molloy was doing great things with me," said LaLonde. "He was running me through things and how to do my steps properly. He noticed that I was stuttering over the hurdles. So that practice was just to work on getting me to go smoothly over the hurdles, instead of stuttering and that helps me go faster.
"It was just that I didn't push hard enough off of that last hurdle, but I took everything from that practice and used it here. I think that's what helped me today to take second place."
Frost, who won the javelin for the second year in a row with a throw of 184 feet, along with LaLonde in the 400-meter hurdles, Barinelli in the triple jump, Ethan Exilhomme in the 110-meter hurdles and the 4x100 relay team, will advance to this Saturday's All-State Meet to be held at Westfield State College.
Barinelli got there as he basically came out of nowhere to finish third in the triple jump with a leap of 43-03.
"I don't think he was seeded to place highly in the triple jump and he ended up having a one-foot personal record jump and he also was eighth in the pentathlon," said Molloy. "When you only take second place by a few points, you start to look around and see where you got the points from and you see that every place mattered and his points mattered big-time. He's become our resonate jumper."
Three days earlier, Barinelli finished eighth out of 12 competitors in the pentathlon competition. He was first overall in the long jump (20-5), fourth in the high jump (5-8), sixth in the 110-meter hurdles (17.02), 10th in the 1,500 meters (5:51.03) and 13th in the shot put (25-03).
Also on that day, the pole vault was held and Jack Kelly was sixth clearing 10-6, followed by Elias Melki and Christopher Nguyen, who were sixth and seventh, both clearing 10 feet.
The 4x100 relay team of Exilhomme, Colby Wilson, Shane Aylward and Colton Rusch broke a school record held since 2008 with a time of 43.63, which was good for third place overall.
"I'm super happy for Colton Rusch to be a member of that relay team," said Molloy. "It's just awesome for him. There's very few guys who work harder than he does, who cares more than he does and who sacrifices more than he does."
Exilhomme was also sixth in the 110-meter hurdles coming in at 14.90 seconds.
"Ethan got some big points for us and I'm just so proud of him," said the coach.
A third member of that relay team, Wilson, a senior, was extremely gutsy despite not being at one hundred percent.
"The person who deserves a better fate is Colby Wilson," said Molloy. "He hurt his foot at the Louks Games (in New York) so he sat out the MVC Championship Meet. We thought it was the right move and it was. We thought after that rest, that he would be able to give it a go (for the pentathlon). And if he did say the triple jump, he would have been fine but the turning element to do the high jump, flared up his foot and because of that, he couldn't do anymore.
“(On Saturday) he missed the finals by nine-one-thousandths of a second in the 100-meters. He deserved a better fate but he certainly brought the effort."
Wilson was 9th in the 100 at 11.26 seconds.
Two other individuals and one relay team also placed to score points. Senior Andrew Froio was fifth in the shot put throwing 46-10 and those were huge points at the time, while the 4x400 relay team of Nick Polimeno, Matt Grace, LaLonde and Joey Branchaud finished sixth at 3:32.71.
Also, senior Casey Ryan, was another athlete who came through with a gutsy performance. His race was early in the morning in the humidity and against a loaded field. He held his ground for most of the race until a terrific final lap pushed him up a few spots to sixth overall with a time of 9:52.52.
"Casey had a strong race. It was early in the day and hot and he really put it together in the second half of the race. His last lap was like 61 (second)-something and he was just motoring. He obviously needed every single one of those seconds," said Molloy.
Rounding out the individual competitors included Derek Munroe taking 9th in the javelin at 147-09, Gustavo Tizotti was 14th in the two-mile at 10:14.73 and Liam Cafferty was 17th in both the discus (114-02) and javelin (132-11).
Finally, the 4x800 relay team of Joey Schifano, Matt Pelletier, Joey Balboni and Will Andella finished 18th at 9:02.20.
Molloy added that it was a total team performance across the entire board.
"I'd like to also thank Coach (Andrea) Caprio, Coach (Mike) Davis, Coach (Peter) Fortunato, Coach (Jill) Paige as well as Tatum Pecci, who came back (from UMass-Lowell) to help out. None of this happens without them. Coach Paige helps out with our jumpers and Barinelli did well, Fortunato works with our distance guys and Casey Ryan did well, Coach Caprio and Davis work with our throwers and Lucas obviously did well, and Tatum has come in to work with our sprinters to perfect our 4x100 relay team and those four girls were awesome.
"Literally from all of our coaches, we got points in every event that our coaches coach. I think that's a big point. If we can get the right people in and we can encourage them to stay here, our kids will do well."
Tewksbury will now send four individuals and one relay team to this Saturday’s All-State Meet to be held at Westfield State University. Frost is seeded first in the javelin, LaLonde is 11th in the 110-meter hurdles and 16th in the 400-meter hurdles, while Exilhomme is 12th in the 110 hurdles. Barinelli is seeded 19th in the triple jump and the 4x100 relay team is 12th.